Wednesday, Sep 20 2006

The clothes make the man, as they say, and in his debut film, Uniform (2003), Chinese writer-director Yinan Diao turns this cliché into a sharp but subtle critique of masculinity, power and social status in contemporary China. The film’s story centers on Wang, a quietly simmering young tailor forced to support his parents after his father falls ill. With the local factory shut down, business is slow until Wang hits on a novel solution to his lack of both money and a social life when a traffic cop forgets to pick up his uniform. Despite the relatively low level of authority it represents, the crisp, blue, short-sleeved shirt (with epaulets!) effects a remarkable transformation on Wang. He goes from a sullen drudge, pushed around by local thugs, to a swaggering petty tyrant. In some of the film’s most comical scenes, Wang extorts bribes and favors from shocked drivers who reluctantly obey the shirt even as they suspect the man wearing it. Along the way, Wang draws on the aura of his new threads to muster enough confidence to approach a girl who works at the local record store who, we eventually learn, is living her own double life. With international art-house phenom director Jia Zhang Ke (Platform, The World) acting as his “artistic adviser,” Diao suffuses his film with the gritty, urban environments — from shady gambling halls to kitschy night clubs — that have become the hallmark of China’s Sixth Generation filmmakers.

—Paul Malcolm

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Also released this week: DVD: Bad Brains: Live at CBGB 1982; Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses; Beowulf and Grendel; Cartoon Network Fridays Volume 1; Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul; Curious George; Daniel Boone: Season One; Daniel Boone: Season Two; The Devil and Daniel Johnson; Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema; The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift Fuse; Gilmore Girls: The Complete Sixth Season; Go for Zucker; Hart to Hart: The Complete Second Season; Henry Fonda: The Signature Collection; High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music; The King of Queens: The Complete Sixth Season; The Lake House; Left in Darkness; Let’s Get Frank; Mama’s Family: The Complete First Season; Martha’s Halloween Ideas; The Miracles of Jesus; Mister Roberts; My Name Is Earl: Season One; One Tree Hill: The Complete Third Season; Plastic Disasters; Put the Needle on the Record; Radiohead: OK Computer — A Classic Album Under Review; Scooby-Doo in Pirates Ahoy!; Stick It; Strange Fruit; The Unit: Season One; Voltron, Vol. 1: Defender of the Universe; Ween: Shinola Vol. 1; Whose Line Is It Anyway?: Season 1, Vol. 1.

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